As the Stade Fallon says goodbye to the 10 teams who have been competing in the FINTRO Women's Hockey World League Semi-Final for the past two weeks, five of those teams are celebrating their automatic qualification for the 2018 Hockey Women’s World Cup in London.
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Netherlands, China, New Zealand, Korea and Australia finished as the top five teams at the first of two Hockey World League Semi-Finals, with five more teams qualifying from the second Semi-Final taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 8-23 July 2017 (tickets here).
So lets, take a look at the qualifiers and their previous World Cup histories, plus a summary of their performance in Brussels.
Easily the team with the most impressive World Cup history. The Oranje, as the Dutch team is known, has won the World Cup on seven occasions and is the current World Cup holder, having marched imperiously to the title in the Hague in 2014. On that occasion, the Netherlands celebrated the win in a stadium of 15,000 people, the majority of whom were cloaked in orange. Many of the team that played that day say it was the best moment of their hockey career – Carlien Dirkse van den Heuval added that it surpassed the gold medal performance at the London Olympics. Netherlands first win came at the first FIH Women’s World Cup in 1974; they had a spell of three consecutive wins in 1983, 1986 and 1990; and as winners of the most recent Hockey World League Semi-Final, Head Coach Alyson Annan will be hoping she can lead the team to be just the first nation to win back-to-back titles twice. [Germany are the other nation to win back-to-back at the World Cup].
China’s first appearance at a World Cup came in 1990, when they finished sixth. The highest finish for the Asian team was in 2002, when they broke the hearts of the host nation, Australia, to take the bronze medal. China has been at every World Cup since but the team’s record is not great. In the Hague in 2014, it was another sixth place finish, when they lost 4-0 to New Zealand. Many of the 2014 team are now senior members of the squad and, in Brussels at the Hockey World League Semi-Final, China looked in a good state. They began slowly, as is their habit at major events, but they were strong from the quarter-finals onwards, and took the game to the Netherlands in the final. Ominously for their opponents, the Head Coach suggested that this was not necessarily the squad that would be seen at the World Cup, several stronger players would be returning to the squad after recovering from injuries.
The Black Sticks have been knocking at the door of a podium finish at a major event for a while now. Fourth place finishes at London 2012, Rio 2016 and the 2015 Hockey World League Semi-Finals all showed that New Zealand was capable of getting into the medals but just fell short on each occasion. A silver in the Hockey World League Final in Rosario in 2015, when they lost to an Argentinian team that was being cheered on by a huge local crowd, must give hope that New Zealand can emulate Las Leonas when the Hockey World League Final takes place in Auckland later this year. 2018 will be New Zealand’s eighth appearance at the World Cup. The first was in 1983 and the team’s best performance was a fourth place in 1986. Mark Hager will be looking for his team to break the fourth-place curse and be among the medals in London.
Korea has been to the past eight World Cup competitions, although the performances, with the exception of a bronze medal in 1990, have been mediocre. Two fifth place finishes, two sixth place, a seventh and a ninth indicate that Korea is a team that is lacking the final polish that turns a consistent team into a Championship winning team. The Korea performance in Brussels at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals confirmed this analysis. Korea were good enough to reach the semi-finals but couldn’t match China for tactical nous or New Zealand for physicality. They also lost 9-0 to a rampant Netherlands earlier in the tournament. That said, in Cheon Seul Ki and Cheon Eunbi, Korea has excellent goal scorers and their defence is disciplined and hard-working. In the next 12 months, Coach Huh Sang Young will be looking to add some physical strength and to find a way for his skillful side to outmanoeuvre the opposition. As captain Kim Jongen said at the end of the Hockey World League Semi-Final: “Every time we play an European side, we learn a little more.”
Australia came to the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Brussels full of hope for the new look squad. A chastening fifth place finish will have given Head Coach Paul Gaudoin plenty to think about between now and next year. Poor performances against Oceania rivals New Zealand and China were the team’s undoing and the Hockeyroos found themselves out of the Hockey World League Final and fighting a battle with Italy to qualify for the Hockey World Cup. But Australia is nation that is used to producing winners and with goalscorers such as Kathryn Slattery, Madi Ratcliffe, Georgina Morgan and Emily Smith in the side, along with the wise and contemplative Rachael Lynch and Jane Claxton, it is hard not to see Australia hitting the sort of form that is clearly in their reach. Australia’s history at the World Cup is a bright one. Two times champions, albeit back in 1994 and 1998; three times runners-up, including in the Hague in 2014; and a third place finish in 1983 is not a bad return. The Hockeyroos have been at every World Cup since 1981 and will have high hopes of adding to their medal tally in 2018.